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Communications Cellphones Displays Handhelds Hardware

Speculating On the Far Future of Cellphones 220

Trio writes "What will cellphones look like in in future? explores five future characteristics that could shape tomorrow's phones — from a wearable prototype such as MIT's SixthSense device which projects mobile data into the user's world, to a mobile that mixes the real and the virtual by using holographic telepresence. So far, so futuristic, but one question remains: will there be enough spectrum to support all this wireless communication?"
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Speculating On the Far Future of Cellphones

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  • a REAL cellphone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by frecky ( 1095067 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @05:48PM (#29139795)
    Yeah, a real cellphone that let you dial a number and speak with someone. Not those with tons of addons that you forget you can dial number with !
  • SixthSense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .werdnaredne.> on Thursday August 20, 2009 @05:48PM (#29139805) Homepage Journal

    Never mind that it isn't practical to walk around with a huge projector on your chest, it isn't fashionable. There is certainly utility to a good web-enabled phone with plenty of apps, but I think people get sold initially on the style of an iPhone specifically. If people adopt new technology and new features in their next phone, style has to help sell it.

    Otherwise, I think we're hitting a breaking point. What more functionality do we really want from our phone? How much more can you accomplish on a small screen? How much more money are you willing to pay for the device and the data plan? If anything, the pendulum might swing backwards as competitors try to ape 80% of the iPhone's functionality at half the price.

  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @05:57PM (#29139945) Journal

    So when you talk about simple, old-fashioned cell phones, what exactly do you mean by "dial a number?"

  • Fun, but pointless (Score:5, Insightful)

    by podom ( 139468 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @05:58PM (#29139951) Homepage

    I can imagine a similar discussion in 1875: "What will telegraphs look like in the future?"

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @05:59PM (#29139959)
    Computing capacity is not the issue. With Moore's Law continuing you'll have a tera-op in that form factor by the 2020s. Engineering cleverness is still factor. The video screen cannot get too much larger if its built-in. People have been experimenting with projection TVs in small form factors at SIGGRAPH and the like.

    Maybe this will be the impetus to get voice recognition and generation software working well. Typing is always going to be a pain on micro-keyboard or touchscreen, compared to the alternatives.
  • Re:SixthSense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kratisto ( 1080113 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @06:00PM (#29139969)
    Well, projectors are shrinking [] and making their way into devices like digital cameras []. When someone figures out how to make green laser diodes consistently and with efficiency to match blue and red diodes, I expect projectors may replace LCD screens entirely in devices for which size is such a big factor.

    As for functionality, there's no reason why your cell phone shouldn't be able to do everything your computer can (in the future), and costs of old technology will continue to fall as new technology becomes available.
  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @06:00PM (#29139971)
    no bigger than the bluetooth you have stuck in your year, or the thing stuck in your ear is not a bluetooth device but a voice controlled cellphone :D
  • Mini-computers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alaska Jack ( 679307 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @06:03PM (#29140017) Journal

    I always figured that the future was in phone/PC convergence. Which is to say, rather than syncing your smartphone with your computer, your smartphone would BE your computer.

    Coming in to your office, You'd pull your PC out of your pocket, sit it on your desk and plug in a monitor. It would connect to a wireless keyboard and mouse, and away you'd go.

    WHen you left to go home or to a meeting, you'd unplug the monitor, stick it in your pocket and off you'd go. The only other thing is you'd pay a cloud service to do incremental backups over wireless or cell service.

    Seems pretty straightforward to me.

        - AJ

  • by CannonballHead ( 842625 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @06:06PM (#29140059)

    I listen to the radio.

    Why is it that because you don't listen to the radio, it is useless?

    Radio is cool. It's completely free and I can find really good music on it. For free. No payments necessary to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 20, 2009 @06:17PM (#29140187)

    That would have been labeled as pretentious bullshit, if it didn't come from a relatively trendy British novelist. In which case it is better labeled as pretentious rubbish...

  • by arun84h ( 1454607 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @06:20PM (#29140231)
    I think what he's referring to is the technology that would enable individuals to use the spectrum of frequencies in their tiny, personal area, however they want. I truly don't think he's saying that they should shut down TV and radio and blah blah blah...
  • "elsewhere-ness" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @06:20PM (#29140235)
    Where you are with a small group of humans with no electronics you are talking directly to each other, looking them in the eye, or at their body language. Sometimes you touch too.

    Now when you are in a public space like a coffee-house, walking the street, sitting on the train, etc. many people are communicating with those out of sight and completely ignoring those in sight. To me it feels like a zombie movie.
  • by Chuck Chunder ( 21021 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @06:33PM (#29140373) Homepage Journal

    I don't have a TV at home, so the TV spectrum is useless. I don't listen to radio in the car, so radio spectrum is useless.

    Not to your neighbours, or people in cars around you. I think you'd be hard pressed to show that broadcasting isn't a reasonably efficient use of the spectra in terms of the amount of content delivered to individuals.

    But what would happen if the FCC went away, and all of a sudden the power players who control TV, radio and other spectra would need to compete with the YouTube amateurs of the world? The powerful would fall.

    That and everyday people would be left without as all existing equipment would be useless. Given the angst over the digital switch over I'd expect there'd be a lot of rather unhappy people were that to happen.

  • Re:Mini-computers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @06:41PM (#29140473)

    I like this, but I really don't want to have to plug it in. And I'm not sure I want to have to carry around the intelligence and the storage, it would be nice to be able to pick up (or sit down at) a random device and have it configured the way I want it, with easy access to my data (this process does not have to be mindlessly automatic, just straightforward, so let's not talk about what a security nightmare it could be).

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @07:08PM (#29140809)

    Given that the most-used features of cellphones are things other than talking on the phone (presumably included in the "Other 9%")

    Even if this were serious, it only seems odd because we use the misnomer "cellphone" instead of something more accurate like, I dunno, personal digital assistant. Imagine if people insisted on thinking of PCs as typewriters (since word processing was an early killer app) and they were still called typewriters, and people started whinging that PCs shouldn't be able to run web browsers because "that's not typing," and "when will we all return to typewriters that just type!" It's nonsense.

  • Re:I see this: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 20, 2009 @07:09PM (#29140813)

    Its already here, Nokia N900

  • Re:Mini-computers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @07:14PM (#29140853)
    If you read "The Road Ahead" from Bill Gates in 1995, that's what he thinks too - except he understated the importance of telephony, and the fact that they'd be referred to and often though of primarily as telephones. Which I guess proves that infrastructure is everything.
  • by JonBuck ( 112195 ) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @07:17PM (#29140893)

    There was an old stand up routine by Dana Gould that had a man walking down the street, talking to himself. Ten years ago this would be a crazy person. "You can't tell a Navy man when he's had enough to drink! Only a Navy man knows when he's had enough to drink!"

    Now, you have to check his other ear to see if he has a Bluetooth earset.

    I feel like we're in the "Slow Take Off" first chapter of Stross's _Accelerando._

  • Re:SixthSense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .werdnaredne.> on Thursday August 20, 2009 @07:52PM (#29141219) Homepage Journal

    I was very young at the time, but from what I recall, Walkmans (or should it be Walkmen?) were all the rage at the time. They were the stylish, popular accessory. A walkman with bright 80's colors and design probably would stick out a bit today.

    The "stereobelt" was invented seven years before the Walkman, but the well-styled Sony product vastly outsold it even coming out seven years later.

    Geeks always underestimate style in marketing and mass adoption.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:58PM (#29142173)

    I think you'll find the GP was being a little sarcastic about wanting a phone that can just be a phone, but I understand where he is coming from when it comes to lots of features.

    What I dislike about much modern tech is that many many features are there simply to be able to peddle further services (cameras are on phones so users have something to MMS, for example). Or features are crippled so as to up-sell to a better or later version, or to force the user to have to use a pay-for service instead (bluetooth missing the ability to transfer files is an example). And there is levels of branding and advertising on phones that would be called adware on a PC! A 3G Sony phone I had a run in with recently had undeletable entries in the music directory to the network operator's music download and ringtone download services. It was a similar story in other user data storage and application areas. The camera had features to MMS a picture straight after being taken, but also had a feature to upload it to a blog. Even the FM radio had a feature crammed in to encourage the user to use mobile internet connectivity - you could record a clip, upload it to some service and they tell you what the song was.

    And the main interface had 2 buttons who's use couldn't be customised, which launched the browser and favourites. It's all about getting the features in the user's face, and stopping them from getting away from them. Kind of like a browser homepage hijack.

    The pressure of phone maker's and network's business interests mean that phones don't really get any better in the way customers would like, instead they get more and more money making features, and the devices get hyped to hell as being the fastest and most powerful thing around.

    I think many customers want a phone that is cheap to use, has decent battery life, and is designed in such a way that it will last a long time, i.e. waterproof enough that a quick swim in a sink won't kill it, and quite strong.

    So we don't need features like cameras and MMS, mobile internet, podcast downloading, youtube support.... Or at least things like this not implemented in annoying in-your-face ways.

    The recent article on /. about a wireless power standard would be very useful to make a phone totally sealed, and so waterproof. Electric toothbrushes have had cordless charging and been waterproof for 30 years, so the lack of this in phones is simply the industry dragging their feet. I'd bet phones damaged by water, and the consequential warranty voiding is quite the money spinner for phone makers.

    Materials have come on massively too recently, so no need to think a tough phone need look like a 1980s G-Shock watch. Carbon fibre, anyone?

    It is frustrating when there is only consumer crap available, and even more frustrating when seemingly smart people are fawning over the latest shiny!

  • mod parent up (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 21, 2009 @12:39AM (#29143203)

    No, he is an actual libertarian ideologue.

    Or troll, if you prefer.

Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"